Will Wearable Innovation Make Up For Wimbledon's Ad Blackout?

Wimbledon sponsorship has always been a bit of an enigma for me. As the men's champion takes to the court today (yes, Britain really does have a reigning champion) millions of television viewers will see that millions are poured into the event, yet the only names the public are likely to ever see are Rolex, on the clocks, with regular mentions of IBM with statistics for "forehand winners" and so on. Clever deals that get front of mind for spectators and home viewers -- and, in the case of IBM, is used in conferences and pitches around the world to underline their IT prowess. Ralph Lauren is probably up there too for sponsoring the officials' suits, but I'm not entirely sure how much coverage they get.

Having been at the event several times, I can assure any who have not that it is the most advertiser-free venue you will ever attend. No hoardings, no signs, no camps for manufacturers to show off their goods. So it has always surprised me that so many brands line up to get involved. Beyond the ego-stroking enjoyment of being able to go behind official doors and get tickets for competition winners -- and dare I presume to suggest, top executives -- I have not always seen the attraction. Look at any other tennis tournament and there will ads in the background, and in many, even right there in the middle of play on the net itself.

Okay -- so the obvious benefit of being Stella Artois and Lanson's is that you get pouring rights at the venue as an official supplier, so you're going to sell a lot of booze. Whether that makes much of a dent in the millions it costs to be associated with the event is quite another thing. Throw in the brand halo benefits of being associated with the event and you're probably starting to see a decent branding return. I'm more perplexed by the sponsorships from the likes of Hertz and Jaguar, particularly Hertz. Will anyone know who brought the players to the ground? Will Hertz be using Jaguar cars? I very much doubt it. So what's in it for either to be associated with the tournament? Surely it can't compare with whoever has the contract to supply strawberries and cream?

Indeed, today's report in Marketing Week clearly shows that last year during the tournament, although Robinson's -- which advertises its association widely -- saw a small rise in the public associating it with the tournament, Stella Artois remained flat and HSBC saw a dip. HSBC are involved with Wimbledon, I hear you say? My point exactly.

That's where new technology comes in. Ironically, the duty of a marketing manager is to normally embrace a sponsorship seen on the court or pitch and bring it in to their brand; to take the on-screen, visible logo and embrace it in real life. With Wimbledon, it's the reverse. Brands have to come up with ways to make their brand appear to have more of an on-screen presence or at least associate it with what's happening on screen.

That's why it's interesting to see Evian (hands up if you knew they supply the water at Wimbledon) and Jaguar trying out new ideas. Evian isn't much of a leap. A bunch of celebrities who've been paid a fortune, no doubt, will talk about tennis for an online chat show about the tournament. Being social, of course it has to be known as a hashtag -- #wimblewatch. 

Far and away the more interesting innovation comes from Jaguar using wearables to monitor heartbeats combined with microphones that will measure noise inside courts. That way, the brand can measure -- and report on -- where the tension and cheers are the highest.

I say interesting, but of course will not be checking it out myself. It's one of those things that sounds great and people might check out every now and then, probably by accident as it drifts into their news feeds on Twitter or Facebook as friends share it or it is sponsored. But what will it tell you that you don't already know? There will be a roar if Andy Murray is doing well, and the most tension will be felt if a big name looks like it is being knocked out. The big names on the big courts. It's not a surprise to find out that's what's "trending" with Jaguar's wearables. It will be fun, but pretty predictable, to find out that the most stressful point of today's action, for spectators, will be watching Andy Murray lose a tie-break or drop his serve. It will probably get some press coverage, given that "silly season" is upon us.

Interesting and innovative? Most definitely. Effective? I'm not so sure. The key would have to be in getting the BBC to cover it somehow, or perhaps more realistically, securing rights for international broadcasters to include a heart rate or noise level metric in their statistics. I could well be eating my proverbial hat next year if this tournaments is the proving ground for a branded metric we later come to see used every year at key points in a game.

Ultimately, if your product can't be seen on screen, because it's being worn, used or drunk, or if it can't be bought in high volumes inside the tournament, then I would seriously question what brands are getting from the Wimbledon -- the branding association that dare not speak its name. Sorry to be the party pooper, and I have to say I will cheering on Andy Murray along with every other Briton, but I would seriously question whether brands will get a decent return on their investment in the tournament where advertising is very British -- we'll quietly take your money but would rather not talk about it.

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